George’s Marvellous Medicine and enduring appeal of Roald Dahl’s work
As a brand new adaptation of George’s Marvellous Medicine arrives in Glasgow David Pollock talks to director Neal Foster about the enduring appeal of Roald Dahl’s work
‘The main secret to adapting Roald Dahl is that he doesn’t censor himself and he doesn’t play safe,’ says Neal Foster, producer of this touring version of George’s Marvellous Medicine for Birmingham Stage Company. ‘This is essentially a story about a young boy who creates a rather poisonous mixture and then gives it to his Grandma. A lot of writers today would worry about writing that, but Dahl just lets rip with all the fun of the fantasy and lets his stories simply be great stories, rather than moral tales.’
Describing his company’s adaptation as a ‘rattlingly fantastic adventure’, Foster points out that it has also been newly updated after 15 years on the BSC’s roster. ‘Stuart Paterson, who is of course a very talented Scottish children’s writer, originally wrote the adaptation for us,’ he says, ‘but because we’ve been doing it for a long time we decided to have a new look at it. So David Wood, who is considered to be one of the great children’s writers for the stage, has written his own adaptation, and he’s had a lot of fun with it.’
The updated version includes some new fantasy sequences. ‘George mixes the medicine for his Grandma because she’s horrendous, but now we have a sequence where he imagines her as nice as she could be. It’s a complete contrast to what has gone before, and very funny. There’s also a lot of audience participation, so kids really feel like they’re helping drive the show and that this medicine is being made because they’re helping out.’
Birmingham Stage Company have previously worked on other Dahl adaptations with Wood, including Danny the Champion of the World and James and the Giant Peach, and it’s a canon that Foster is always happy to come back to. ‘The characters Dahl creates are some of the finest in all of children’s literature: the BFG, Fantastic Mr Fox, the Grand High Witch from The Witches. From a theatrical point of view, I wish adults would write characters like these in plays for each other, because theatre has gone very un-theatrical in a lot of ways, it’s very naturalistic and urban a lot of the time now. I miss the high theatricality, which we used to have. That’s what makes producing it so much fun, and why adults enjoy our shows just as much as kids do.’
Foster isn’t just relishing this show for the opportunity to work with Dahl’s characters and dialogue, but for the technical challenge it presents. ‘When George gives Grandma the medicine, she crashes through the roof,’ he says, ‘then she shrinks to the size of a child and disappears. These are big moments we’re asked to achieve, and our designer has managed to do this in a way which is very swift and dramatic, and leaves the audience in the dark as to how it’s done.’
Midway through an 18-month tour and with the first London performance on the horizon, the show should be in full stride when Glasgow audiences set eyes and ears on it.
George’s Marvellous Medicine, Theatre Royal, Glasgow, Tue 27–Sat 31 Jul.